Editor’s Note: This beautiful invitation to the Velvet Ashes online retreat was written before much of the world shut down due to COVID-19. At the time I received this piece, I thought it was one of the most moving descriptions of community, both online and otherwise, that I had ever read. I still believe that, and as such, I am hosting this piece unaltered from its original form.
In fact, I believe that in light of the chaos and turmoil of COVID-19, the invitation to retreat and to connect is even more timely. Women across the world might not be able to experience this retreat with their fellow expat friends as they would have in years past, but with an internet connection they can still receive the nourishment and rest they so long for, especially at a time like this. ~Elizabeth Trotter
by Denise Beck
I got word this week that a high school teacher of mine lost her battle with breast cancer. She was such a character that I am sure there will be no rhyme or reason to the kinds of people who will show up to pay their respects. From solemn and prestigious to ornery and the life of the party, they will all sit shoulder to shoulder and wipe their eyes while they laugh and remember her. It reminds me of these words I read recently, “Grief is a chain that ties us together.” The thing that will unite doctors, and homeschool moms, and pastors, and high-school dropouts at her funeral is the grief they share over losing this fiery strong woman way too soon. And for that moment, it will be enough. All of the ways that life has scattered and changed people will melt away because of how alike they are in those few moments.
Last night I was with other women who have lived overseas. They were telling me how excited they are about the upcoming Velvet Ashes Retreat. One of them mentioned, “I can’t wait until after the retreat when we hear others start using words that give away that they just experienced the Velvet Ashes Retreat”. Each year the theme that God brings us to walk through ends up being one of those “uniting” moments. It becomes a time in our lives when how we are alike speaks louder than how we are different, and it is so powerful. In the past we have been united over “Shalom”, “Sustain”, and “Release.” In fact, if you have retreated with us before, these words may bring nostalgia over what the Lord showed you during your retreat with Him.
If you could peek into my first Velvet Ashes Retreat experience you would see a very reluctant Global woman curled up in a leather chair by an open window giving it a try because I promised someone I would. (I was very skeptical that I would get anything out of it.) You would then notice my hard edges of doubt soften as I experienced a very personal God meet me in the spaces between the pages, in the worship music that played; in the time I made just to be with Him. That year I was back in the States on an unplanned medical furlough. I was feeling separated from so many things; my home, my plans for the future; my expectations. In those moments Velvet Ashes reminded me that I am never separated from my God. And no matter how different my experiences were from other women like me, we were all united in that moment as the worldwide community made space to retreat together. All meeting God around the same language.
This year I invite you to add “Celebrate” to your list of words that unite you with other women across the globe. You have made birthday parties and Fourth of July’s come to life from the most minimal of supplies. You have celebrated holidays you didn’t even know existed before you landed in your host culture. You are no stranger to celebration! However, we can sometimes be a stranger to celebrating the goodness of God. Join us this year as we lean into the author of celebration and learn to celebrate in all seasons of our lives and ministries.
Are you weary? Yet I will celebrate.
Are you unappreciated? Yet I will celebrate.
Are you hopeful? Yet I will celebrate.
Are you scared? Yet I will celebrate.
Are you lonely? Yet I will celebrate.
Are you motivated and passionate? Yet I will celebrate.
Are you lost? Yet I will celebrate.
Come find out that wherever you are is where He is waiting to celebrate with you.
I have no doubt that my old high school math teacher is celebrating more than the fact that she doesn’t have me in class anymore. No greater party than the one in His presence.
Being shaped by her years in S. Sudan, Denise’s heart grew for women who take the unknown and carve out beauty in all its forms. When she was introduced to Velvet Ashes, she found a place that celebrated that beauty as well. Partnering with this team to provide connection and courage for women in their cross-cultural lives has been another reminder of the beautiful gifts God gives. Her favorite places to be are anywhere her 4 kids are, next to her husband no matter what country, and anywhere that gets her close to the feet of Jesus.